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Six Minnesota Somalis Charged With Trying To Join Islamic State

When Guled Ali Omar made up his mind to join the Islamic State group, he wasn't easily deterred, reports the Associated Press. The Minnesota man emptied his bank accounts last May and planned to fly to Syria via San Diego, federal officials say, but his family stopped him. In November, he tried to board a flight in Minneapolis, but was blocked by the FBI. Even while under investigation, Omar and five other men kept trying to go to Syria, coming up with a plot to secure false passports. Omar is among six Minnesota men of Somali descent charged with terrorism offenses in charges unsealed yesterday. They are among the latest Westerners accused of traveling or attempting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group, which has carried out a host of attacks including beheading Americans.

In Alabama on Monday, a spokesman for a Muslim couple said their 20-year-old daughter fled a Birmingham suburb to join militants in Syria after being recruited online. The woman's whereabouts weren't immediately clear. Authorities described the Minnesota men as friends in the state's Somali community who recruited and inspired each other and met secretly to plan their travels. They are charged with conspiracy to provide material support and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. "What is remarkable about this case is that nothing stopped these defendants from pursuing their goal," said U.S. Attorney Andy Luger. "They never stopped plotting another way to get to Syria to join ISIL." The Minneapolis area is home to the largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the U.S. Since 2007, 22 young Somali men have traveled from Minnesota to Somalia to join the militant group al-Shabab, which is also listed by the U.S. State Department as fomenting terrorism. 

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After FBI Admits Hair Testimony Flaws, Leahy Renews Forensic Reform Call

After federal officials acknowledged that nearly an entire unit of FBI forensic examiners overstated testimony about hair matches for decades, the question now is how courts and prosecutors will respond to criminal convictions that may have relied on such evidence, the Washington Post reports. A sampling of cases in Massachusetts and North Carolina shows the challenges facing convicts seeking to appeal. Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), the top Democrats on the Senate judiciary and House science committees, called on Congress to pass forensic-science reforms to hold examiners to the highest standards. “This kind of gross misconduct simply cannot be tolerated in our criminal justice system,” Leahy said.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers are being notified to determine if the outcome of cases hinged on the problem testimony. The FBI has offered new DNA testing, and the Justice Department will drop procedural objections to appeals in federal cases. The picture is different in state cases, where most errors occurred. Biological evidence in these cases often is lost, destroyed or degraded. Only California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant or when scientific advances undermine forensic evidence at trial. The Innocence Project, which along with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers participated in the federal review, argues that scientifically invalid forensic testimony should be considered a violation of due process and grounds for appeal, as courts have held with false or misleading testimony.

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In Supreme Court, Justice Department Routinely Backs Police Use Of Force

At the U.S. Supreme Court, where the limits of police power are established, the Justice Department has supported police officers every time an excessive-force case has made its way to arguments, reports the New York Times. Even as it has opened more than 20 civil rights investigations into local law enforcement practices, DOJ has staked out positions that make it harder for people to sue the police and that give officers more discretion about when to fire their guns. Police groups see Attorney General Eric Holder as an ally in that regard, and that pattern has rankled civil rights lawyers, who say the government can have a far greater effect on policing by interpreting law at the Supreme Court than through investigations of individual departments.

“There is an inherent conflict between people at the Justice Department trying to stop police abuses and other people at the Justice Department convincing the Supreme Court that police abuses should be excused,” said Ronald Kuby, a New York City civil rights lawyer. Conflict is built into the system. The Justice Department’s core mission is law enforcement. “It’s natural that the instinctive reaction of the department is to support law enforcement interests, even when a particular case may have compelling facts for the individual defendant,” said Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration. He said the Justice Department had a duty to tell the court what effect a ruling could have for federal law enforcement agencies.

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Ohio Case Caught On Video Is Example Of Officer Not Shooting

After a spate of controversial shootings by police officers, a new incident is drawing public attention for the opposite reason: An officer is shown on video refraining from the use of his weapon, despite clearly being in a volatile situation, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The incident involving Jesse Kidder, a rookie cop in New Richmond, Oh., is drawing national publicity and praise as a model of police restraint. After a car chase Thursday, a murder suspect jumped out of his vehicle and charged at officer Kidder, who got out of his car and had his gun ready and a body camera running.

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Texas Moves To Allow Open Carrying Of Guns Statewide

After turning back last-minute attempts to let city voters opt out, the Texas House gave final approval to legislation allowing gun owners with concealed weapons licenses to carry their side arms openly, the Texas Tribune reports. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate, and Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to sign open carry legislation. 

The Texas House debated the bill for more than five hours last week. Lawmakers opposed to open carry made last-ditch efforts to soften the legislation. Rep Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, filed an amendment that would allow large cities to vote to opt in or out of open carry. "Rural open carry is different than densely populated open carry," Anchia said. "If you put this to a vote in big cities, I think people are going to say resoundingly no."

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Experts Say NRA Illegally Sends Contributions To Its Political Fund

General contributions to the National Rifle Association are finding their way into the account of the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, the NRA’s political action committee. Eexperts on federal election law tell Yahoo News they are all illegal. The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and a legion of state and federal antifraud statutes are designed to protect the public from phony charities and false or misleading solicitations. The FECA makes a hard distinction between solicitations for elections and other solicitations, in part because many Americans don’t like donating to politicians.

An NRA member might contribute to the organization because she admires its work on behalf of hunters. She might also contribute to an environmental group because she wants to preserve forests. But this same donor may vehemently oppose the candidates endorsed in federal elections by both the NRA and the environmental group. As a result, the law makes it clear that when these groups are soliciting for electoral purposes they must disclose that fact to potential donors. “There are at least three clear violations” of federal law, says Brett Kappel, an expert on political law and campaign finance at the law firm Akerman LLP. “First of all, they can’t be soliciting from the general public at their website. Then there’s the fact that the money is not being solicited in the name of the PAC; they have to say it’s for the PAC and what the political purpose of the PAC is. And then there are multiple missing disclaimers such as the disclaimer saying that contributions have to be voluntary.”

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Minnesota Reverses Course, Bans Inmates From On-Camera Interviews

Minnesota prison officials have identified a form of contraband that’s now off-limits around inmates: news cameras, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A new media policy prohibits any photography or videography, reversing a previous rule that allowed inmates, with the approval of the Department of Corrections, to grant on-camera interviews. Corrections officials say they made the change to ensure that the news media access policy “aligns” with the contraband policy, which includes cameras, along with pornography, lighters, knives, wrapped packages and other dangerous stuff.

The policy means that the nearly 10,000 inmates of Minnesota prisons will recede even further from public view, their faces all but invisible. Banning cameras from interviews with consenting inmates is “absurd,” said Gregg Leslie of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The Washington-based advocacy group has fought to maintain the media’s access to inmates. Leslie said the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that inmates do retain speech rights, and by extension the ability to communicate with reporters. The outspokenness of a well-known inmate serving a life sentence for murdering a police officer led to a backlash in Pennsylvania, where the legislature last year passed a law that bans convicts from inflicting “mental anguish” on their victims. Leslie said the Reporters Committee is joining civil liberties advocates in fighting that law as a restriction of free speech.

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